A Sacred Place for St. John’s Home at Mount Hope Cemetery

by Darryl Powell, St. John’s Spiritual Life Partner

Rochester has historically had a large German population.  Some of the German immigration was the result of Bausch + Lomb (B+L), which brought many workers here for a variety of jobs.  Many of these workers became members of the established German Lutheran congregations in and around the city.  Among the Germans brought here by B+L were young women who served as domestics in the homes of B+L staff members.  These single women spent much of their adult lives caring for these families and their homes. They never married and had no immediate family to lean on or be cared for in their older years.

St. John’s Home, started and operated by the German Lutheran churches, took these women into the home to give them a place to spend the later years of their lives. The property at Highland and South Avenues was given to the Lutheran Churches by the Ellwanger family.  The upstairs of the home was a well-home for the women as they aged.  Downstairs was the infirmary for their care when such services were needed. At its peak, St. John’s had 70 German women who had spent their lives in America as domestics for B+L staff members.

It was decided that because the women did not have family to care for them upon their passing, that it would be important and necessary to purchase for them cemetery plots at Mount Hope Cemetery. The Home, and its associated Lutheran churches, purchased a portion of Mount Hope Cemetery that would accommodate the burials of the 70 women.  This section is near Elmwood Avenue side of Mt. Hope Cemetery, toward the University of Rochester.   The funds for this purchase were procured from the Home’s operating money and money from its supporting Lutheran churches.

Each grave is marked by a small stone laid flat to the ground.  This was to make maintenance of the area (that is, keeping the grass cut) as easy as possible. This practice is common today in many cemeteries.

By 1968, residents of St. John’s Home typically had their own burial plots of their own choosing. In due time, 67 of the 70 plots were used.   St. John’s leadership chose to sell back to Mount Hope Cemetery the remaining 3 plots since it was determined they would not be needed.

The maintenance employees of St. John’s were the caretakers of the St. John’s section of Mount Hope Cemetery for many decades.  In time the Cemetery staff performed most of the caretaking duties, specifically cutting the grass. Reverend Raymond Probst, long-time Chaplain of St. John’s, then cared for the graves by clipping around every stone so the names were clearly visible. He did this every week in the summertime for 24 years.

The St. John’s section of Mount Hope Cemetery is marked by a large, white Celtic cross.  It was a tradition that at Christmas a wreath was placed in front of the cross. In addition, for many years, the families for whom the women worked as domestics would bring flowers to mark their graves on the anniversaries of their deaths.

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